Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

President's blog

Read the latest blog entries from the current CIPFA President during their year in office.

March 2021

Professor Andy Hardy reflects on the his experience of the last few months, particularly from his role within the health sector.

It seems strange for this to be the first time I've written for you since November, given how eventful the last few month have been. At the time of writing, the UK's COVID vaccination programme has gotten underway. Back in December, I was proud to oversee the administration of the first ever Pfizer vaccines outside of a clinical trial at University Hospital, Coventry, to Margaret Keenan and, would you believe it, William Shakespeare! With the worldwide media coverage that followed, I think I've now heard every Shakespeare pun under the sun. Since then, the UK has recently hit the incredible milestone of 21 million vaccines administered. In conjunction with the Prime Minister's recently announced roadmap out of lockdown, it seems that we may be close to putting this horrific pandemic to bed once and for all.

That's not to say that the impact of the pandemic won't be felt for some time to come. For the public finance profession in particular, the aftershocks of this crisis will be severe and persistent. The 2020 Performance Tracker outlined how the pandemic would affect hospital waiting lists, suggesting that the number of patients waiting for care is likely to consistently increase for at least the next few years. In local government, pressures on income have been particularly acute with not nearly enough government funding to bridge the demand gap, particularly in services hit hard by the pandemic such as social care.

These pressures were further compounded by the November spending review, in which the lion's share of increases to council spending power were contingent on increasing council tax – a bitter pill to swallow for local politicians representing already financially squeezed residents. Most recently of course was the Budget. While the near-term support announced avoids the dreaded cliff edge for many people and businesses, it was quiet on the need for ongoing support to public services. The restart grants and tapering business rates arrangements represent an additional administrative burden for local authorities that already face increasing demands on resources. There was also no mention of the challenges facing social care and public health – areas in which greater investment and planning certainty are desperately needed.

Despite these ongoing challenges, it is my hope that you are maintaining the optimism, determination and compassion that has got us through the last year. As we move forwards, let us take these qualities and use them to fuel our resolve to recover.